If there's only thing the #MarvelCinematicUniverse isn't really known for, it's long lasting villains. Aside from fan-favorite #Loki (Tom Hiddleston), and the big bad in the background #Thanos (Josh Brolin), most villains who appear in the cinematic universe are fairly one-note characters. They rarely return for a second act, and if they do it's typically short-lived, or as a changed person — à la Crossbones (Frank Grillo) and the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) in Captain America: Civil War.
But there's been a few enduring presences in the Captain America mythology in particular, one of whom is often forgotten about when placed next to his big red faced commander. We speak of course of Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), who appeared as an antagonist in Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Marvel's Agent Carter.
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And though he didn't actually appear in Civil War, Zola's presence was felt through his work on the #WinterSoldier project. He's been a secondary villain in the #MCU, but that doesn't mean he's not been a dangerous one — the puppeteer in the background manipulating events for decades.
Back in 2014 when Edgar Wright was still at the helm of the project, an early version of the script for Ant-Man revealed a number of characters set to appear in the movie. The characters in question were to appear in the prologue scene in a S.H.I.E.L.D. meeting with Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), and they were Howard Stark (John Slattery), Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell), Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) and Arnim Zola himself. This scene did appear in the finished piece, but with slightly different characters.
Zola debuted back in The First Avenger as the right-hand-man to Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) and was captured by Captain America (Chris Evans) in the train raid which apparently took the life of Bucky Barnes. From then he went on to work for S.H.I.E.L.D. as a prisoner of war, though was actually part of HYDRA's larger sleeper agent plan, rebuilding the organisation within the ranks of S.H.I.E.L.D. itself.
By the time Zola popped up again in The Winter Soldier, he had taken on his digital computer form from the comics, his consciousness having been transferred into the form of a supercomputer. And it's this famous form which we nearly saw in Ant-Man, as four new pieces of concept art shared by MCU designer Josh Nizzi reveal. Check them out below!
But both Zola and and fellow The Winter Soldier villain Alexander Pierce were missing from the meeting roster by the time it got to the final draft of the Ant-Man script. They were replaced instead by Mitchell Carson (Martin Donovan), who got his face slammed into the desk by Pym in retaliation for his smacktalk regarding the death of Pym's wife — the original Wasp, Janet van Dyne (Hayley Lovitt).
Likely the two were omitted so not to detract from the origin story of Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) as — the battle with Falcon (Anthony Mackie) aside — Ant-Man as a part of the MCU was a fairly self-contained narrative. Placing two major The Winter Soldier villains right at the beginning of the introduction of a brand new superhero could be seen as a little distracting, even if it would've been a nice call back to the wider MCU.
Still, it's a shame that we came so close to seeing this incredibly comic-booky looking version of Zola on the screen. He may look a little ridiculous in this form, but then again this is the same movie which gave us Yellowjacket (Corey Stoll), so enough said.
And — though the machine which housed his consciousness was seemingly destroyed during The Winter Soldier — the fact that this concept art is still floating around at Marvel gives us that fleeting hope that Zola may yet return later in the game. Because, as we all know, you cut off the head of the Hydra, and two more will take its place.
Would you like to see Arnim Zola making a return to the MCU in his robot body, or is he best left to rest? Sound off in the comments below!